At 25 years old, up and coming queer alt-pop crooner Chaz Cardigan is poised for greatness. Known for his soulful, strong singing voice and genre-bending brand of music – a mix of folk, R&B, and modern pop – Cardigan is a certified 21st century pop artist, unafraid to mix sounds as he sees fit.
After moving to Nashville at 17, performing for years at sold out gigs, producing a hip-hop collective called The Diatribe, releasing a full length album and penning his viral single “Over,” Cardigan has finally found a label to call home. Or more accurately, labels.
This month, Cardigan was signed to both Capitol Records and Loud Robot, making him the first artist to sign jointly to the two music hubs (Loud Robot is a new record label under film production company Bad Robot, created and run by J.J. Abrams). Cardigan’s dual signing is unprecedented and, with the support of two major industry players and raw musical talent, points his trajectory skyward.
“The coolest thing about being signed to both is the endless potential for creativity,” Cardigan tells Billboard. “No one says no to anything. Ideas get brought up, and we just talk about the different ways we can make those ideas happen, different ways to actualize things. Very end goal oriented. Plus, the great pool of creators I’ll be able to work with between Capitol and Loud Robot makes it an ideal environment.”
To celebrate his latest achievement, Cardigan is releasing “Not OK!” (premiering below), the first single and music video off his highly anticipated new EP, set for release this February. The track is a pumping mélange of bright beats, rough guitar riffs, and hypnotic sitar lines, with Cardigan’s deeply emotive voice soaring over all. The track serves as an anthem to Cardigan’s mental health and his realization that being “not OK” is actually totally OK.
In the surreal clip, we see Cardigan bathing in a deep tub of water mixed with multicolored gummy bears, as he sings about the fact that on most days, despite having bouts of togetherness, he’s not doing great. He smashes his head into the depths of his bath to have a good scream into the water, as the tiny candied animals swirl around his face. Eventually he is challenged to a staring contest with a giant gummy, and as Cardigan gets out of the tub and dons a bathrobe to confront the big bear, he is transformed into a gummy man himself. It’s terrifying, strange, and delicious.
Originally from Kentucky, Cardigan came out as gay early in life. “I came out around the time I was 13. Which in Kentucky is not exactly a popular move,” he says. “There was a lot of tension with students and parents and teachers around it, and that was an awkwardness I had to learn to navigate really early. Thankfully I had music as a way to cope.” It’s clear that the singer has done his fair share of coping; professionally trained as a pianist, Cardigan’s affinity for music and his raw talent enabled him to teach himself the guitar, bass, and drums.
But according to the singer, his new song came to him after he decided to seek professional help with his coping through therapy. “I was in this really intense place of picking apart some of my bad habits, the walls I felt like I kept coming up against,” he says. “So instead of feeling down on myself or feeling guilty for these things in my life I didn’t like, I would think, why am I this way? And then in that unpacking, realizing that, actually, no one knows what we’re doing. There’s no magical level you get to in life where it all starts to make sense. So why pretend that we’re put together? That’s what it’s about for me.”
The video itself, in a way, is also about confronting long-held beliefs and hurtful misgivings. “It’s the important things that scare you, but even in this video, I’m taking the opportunity to subvert negative tropes,” Cardigan says. “This is the first thing a lot of people are going to hear and see by me, and I’m shirtless the whole video… and I’m not some cut up, skinny guy. I’m a normal, chubby dude who’s having a staring contest with a gummy bear. It borders on being uncomfortable. It’s a great way to live the song and just be like, ‘F–k you, this is who I am right now.’ That’s scary, but it’s empowering at the same time.”